On a shelf [~mile 584.5; mpd 8.35]
So far I’m loving Virginia, but places to camp are few and far between. I got spoiled in the lower states, where every mile or two there was a fire ring and a nice flat place to pitch a tent. Also, water sources seem to be getting scarce—a far cry from the mountain springs bubbling out of the rock every few miles in the upper levels.
Last night for the fourth time since March 7, I wasn’t warm enough. It was frigid overnight, and even though the wind died down, the cold crept under my rainfly and through the mesh and poked me all night. It was my own fault; I had another layer of clothes I could have put on. But I couldn’t bring myself to relinquish the warmth I had by getting out from under the quilt! You know how those nights go.
The alarm went off at 6 AM, and I got packed up pretty quickly. Pathfinder and Blackhawk packed up, too, but they settled in to cook their breakfast and coffee. That was a stylistic difference; they enjoy that morning time, whereas I like to hit the trail by 7 and get in a mile or two before scarfing a couple of Cliff bars. And I’m such a beta dog, it never occurred to me to set out and get a little bit of a head start. If I’d done that, I might still be with them… but probably not. When push came to shove, their measured pace was, for me, a headlong rush at max speed.
It was great to see some other ways of doing things! The breakfast was one thing. Their food system was entirely different; they’re doing the more typical resupply, carrying no more than four days of food then going into a town for more. They also carry a lot more water than I tend to. Pathfinder typically carries something like 3.5 liters at the start of the day. (Actually, I don’t think Blackhawk carries a lot of water. That’s all in flux anyway, with the way the water sources are changing.) Their typical start time is 8 or 8:15, and they go 15 to 18 miles by 6 PM.
Pathfinder, especially, is a machine! (That’s a compliment.) She takes a break every two hours or so, but when she’s not on a break she’s marching. It was great to see her in action. She’s about my height, her legs are about the same length, and she has worse respiratory issues than I do. When she climbs a hill, her pace never varies; but the length of her strides shortens, sometimes even to baby steps. I was doing the opposite: keeping my strides the same length, but slowing the pace. I used her way all day today and it was kind of miraculous. I managed some big hills without stopping. Thanks, Pathfinder!
Another thing I learned: where she’s a machine, I’m a fidgeter. When the hiking gets painful or boring, I fidget. I see something I have to get a picture of. I need a snack. I need a drink of water. My jacket’s too hot and I need to take it off. I’m too cold and I have to put the jacket on. And on and on and on. When she hikes, she’s very focused; all that other stuff happens when she’s on a break. I think I’m a little too ADHD to be that single-minded, but I’m pretty sure I can eliminate some of that fidgeting. Not sure if it’ll net me any more miles, since the limiting factor is still my feet, but I’ll be playing with that idea for a while.
So. Following those guys actually made my feet and ankles and tendons and knees quite painful, and not in a way I can overlook. My left knee at the moment is very tender. At around 9 this morning, when Pathfinder got ahead of me, this time I didn’t race to catch her. I just followed at my regular sedate, fidgety pace. Blackhawk passed me eventually. I don’t imagine I’ll see them again for a while. Maybe in Pearisburg. They’ll be leaving when I arrive, no doubt. 🙂
The morning started out cold. The first mile was the last of that rocky ridgewalk from yesterday. Troll country! Then I crossed a road and the scenery changed. It became less rocky, more… tangled. Like a neglected garden long gone to seed. The weeds and vines were boisterous. And the trail went down hard—an enormous downhill, which is probably why my knee is so sore right now. Near the bottom I bumped into 50/50, who was hiking southbound with his full pack after having slackpacked a section yesterday. I didn’t envy him having to do that long descent from the other direction! (Funny: About halfway down was a rock. Some poor SOBO had scratched into it, “I can’t go on.” Guess he did, though, because there was nobody there.)
At the bottom was a shelter with a hysterical privy situation. The privy had no walls. Just an outhouse toilet on a platform. 🙂
And wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, the afternoon was hot! It was bee-droning, leaf-rustling, bird-singing summer! The trail was relatively root- and stone-free; it was wide and comfortable, like an old long driveway. The terrain apparently stays comfortable all the way to Pearisburg!
The only downside was trying to find a place to camp. I’m trying to hit this little grocery store, and I realized I was actually going to get there at a bad time, so I had to recalculate my next couple of days. And that left me with no need to push today—which was excellent, because my feet really need a rest. It’s been a week and a half since I had a zero.
But alas, there was no place to pitch a tent! I actually ended up doing about 13.5 or 14 miles anyway, before I found this barely reasonable shelf. I’m pitched on a couple of sharp rocks, too. I think it’ll be OK, though.
All in all… an outstanding day. I’ll take a few more like this one, please!
One low note: My camp water bottle seems to have started leaking at the cap. I think I’ll pick up an extra liter bottle at the grocery store. I hate to do it, because of the bulk, but I need some sort of reliable vessel, what with the water suddenly not being as readily available.